April 2008 Archives
April 30, 2008
So I'm about five hours into GTAIV and I have the following quick observations:
What do you guys think of the game so far?
So what if Grand Theft Auto 4 come from a long history of games that provide hours of entertainment and a deep story full of foul, slimy, but so fun to watch characters? All Saints Row 2 needs is Gary Busey.
In one of the strangest advertisements I've ever seen for a video game, Uncle Gary hands out some educational Street Lessons for those anticipating Saints Row 2. Topics range from heavy weapons to the law enforcement of Stilwater. And yes, Busey is as totally freaking nuts as ever.
April 28, 2008
In an unprecedented move, Ubisoft has announced another sequel in the Prince of Persia series, currently titled ... Prince of Persia. The rebellious move is expected to net Ubisoft lots of money and huge profits.
In another move by maverick Ubisoft, the game will be launch for not one, not two, but four platforms: the Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and DS. Ubisoft believes the game will do what no game has done before and "rejuvenate the action-adventure genre." In perhaps their most unexpected move, the game will be on sale during the Holidays of 2008.
In all seriousness, a new Prince of Persia game isn't a bad thing. All three in the recent trilogy were fantastic games, despite some missteps in character and attitude. Ubisoft also announced that the game will have an "illustrative art style" that intrigues me. The upcoming movie also piques my interest: Bruckheimer may not be an artistic savant, be he made a theme park ride into a competent, enjoyable movie series, so Prince of Persia shouldn't be much trouble.
With all the insane hype, the near perfect scores, and the simple fact that it's a new Grand Theft Auto I have to wonder, is anyone out there not buying this game? I even know several people who are buying a new system just to play GTA IV. Everyone and anyone who plays games seems to be buying this game.
But yet something surprising happened to me today while I was trying to arrange some multiplayer mayhem with my Xbox 360 friends ... only few of them were planning on picking up the game. Even with all the hype and amazing reviews they weren't planning on picking it up any time soon. When I asked them they give me a very simple reason ... they don't like the Grand Theft Auto franchise.
And to tell you the truth ... neither do I. (Whew, that felt good to finally get off my chest.)
Yeah, I understand the appeal of GTA III and Vice City, but I just found them ... boring. The cities seemed dead to me with robotic pedestrians, the side-quests seemed more like work than fun, and the endless "collection quests" drove me insane. Those games seemed like a rough collection of mini-games, none of which I found particularly fun or exciting. (However I will say that San Andreas was much better and I actually enjoyed that entry in the series, but still I found it above average at best).
But yet I'm still super excited to play GTA IV, even though I don't really enjoy the GTA franchise. Why you ask?
Ironically it's because of Rockstar's non-GTA games. The Warriors, Bully and even Manhunt were some of the most enjoyable gaming experiences of my life. I found all of those games rich experiences with fascinating characters, complex stories, and engrossing worlds. I enjoyed these games as much as people seem to enjoy the GTA games, and for the same reasons it seems.
Hence, that is why I can't wait to play GTA IV. GTA IV seems to combine the best aspects of Rockstar's non-GTA games along with the "tried and true" GTA gameplay aspects. And if Rockstar managed to combine their two worlds of GTA and non-GTA gameplay, then I fully expect GTA IV to be right up there with the legends.
I guess I'll find out, along with several million other people, in just a few hours.
Anyone else out there own an Xbox 360 or PS3 and is not planning on getting GTA IV? What's up with that?
April 24, 2008
In the increasingly complicated world of International Intelligence, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was looking for a new way to train recruits in the fine art of "critical thinking" three guesses where they decided to turn (and the first two don't count). Yep, the world of video games (of course)!
Three PC games were developed by Visual Purple (a simulation studio) for the DIA with the explicit goal of training young agents to analyze complex issues. "It is clear that our new workforce is very comfortable with this approach," says Bruce Bennett, chief of the analysis-training branch at the DIA's Joint Military Intelligence Training Center.
Wired got the chance to play these three games, all of which sound very interesting. The games are a "surprisingly clever and occasionally surreal blend of education, humor and intellectual challenge" that range from "Zen Buddhism meets the National Intelligence Estimate" to "a whodunit that begins with scenes of a tanker under attack in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war in 1988". Maybe the government could make up some of the $2.6 million spent on these games by making a consumer copy (I'd sure like to give them a try). And what happens when these games become common in military training? Maybe in the next Call of Duty players will have to train in a video game in order to pass basic training.
It appears that the Spore development team keeps tabs on the Gaming Steve Spore forums as in their latest update on the Spore web site they featured four creatures created by GS forum members.
LadyM (Mallen), Hydromancerx (Naucean), Petreak (Mentripod), and Oviraptor (Vvukkrauur) were lucky enough to have sketches of their creatures not only turned into official Spore creatures, but each of their creatures were evaluated by the NASA Astrobiology Institute as well as the Spore design team. A sample:
Vvukkrauur, by Oviraptor
Congratulations you four! I only wish I created a creature as well ... doh!
Update: Mason11987 (Swiftick) and Wydraz (Flaaarg) were also mentioned on the site and are active forum members (sorry I missed you two). So six of the eight creatures featured were from the GS Spore forum ... not bad at all.
April 22, 2008
Mario Kart Wii
Out in Europe for a fair few weeks now – and uncharacteristically late reaching US shores – I thought it only fair to spill a few beans on Mario Kart Wii, thus letting our American siblings know just what they're in for regarding the mustached one's latest at the end of the month.
There's both good and bad to report, so buckle in and take note.
First, let's talk single player. 32 courses – 16 of which are new – 25 characters, and a good gazillion vehicles round-off the features list, most of which require unlocking as you progress through its four different classes of increasingly (and surprisingly) punishing difficulty. Sure, the setup's undeniably familiar to vets of the series, but make no mistake, Mario Kart Wii boasts some neat new additions to this now-aging formula well worth bearing in mind.
Bikes would be the biggest of which, and it's all done a bit of a PGR4 in that regard. A little nippier, easier to knock around, and capable of some fab tricks, they're a blast to wield I'm pleased to say, and prove my personal weapon of choice 90% of the time.
Then there's the wheel; the freebie add-on contraption that Nintendo throw into the box as a bonus. While you play with the standard "hands out in front" Wii-mote pose seen in previous racing games on this system, clipping on this optional plastic shell gives it a far more tactile feel, not to mention one immeasurably more fun to boot. It certainly works in that regard, yet I couldn't help but notice that in terms of raw performance, my lap times shrunk the second I ditched the waggle controls entirely and opted for something more traditional.
Gamecube and Classic Controllers are fully supported here you see, as is a "half-way" choice that still involves some minor waggle, yet uses the nun-chuck for steering. While the casual gamer'll enjoy the wheel to no end then, no doubt these additional options will prove more ideal for the hardcore.
I call the formula aging, yet 16 years on there's still something undeniably brilliant about Mario Kart as a concept. Blazing around brightly colored cartoony worlds, blowing away pursuers with green shells while knocking friends to their death in fiery lava pits proves just as much a blast as it did back on the SNES, and will certainly see you smiling through this latest installment's opening hours as those timeless memories come flooding back.
It's a looker too, right up there with Super Mario Galaxy as one of the Wii's finest. New tracks like Mushroom Gorge and Maple Treeway – with their glowy underground caverns and beautiful orange foliage – stand out in particular, as do the pleasing wealth of more sinister Bowser-themed circuits in the latter cups of the game. It'll blaze along at 60fps just fine too, until you start splitting the screen up 3 or 4 ways, while fab lighting and pleasing bloom effects round the game off with a sensual smoothness that hides many of the jaggies. The retro tracks are noticeably worse off compared to the newcomers, that said – lacking their width and gigantic scope in particular – but never the less inspire a nostalgic grin as they always do.
In terms of pure gameplay, I should mention that MK Wii has swung drastically away from simple racing, and somewhat bizarrely off into the realms of performing tricks and boosts this time around. Pulling off any kinda stunt in this game – from drifts, to wheelies, to half-pipe jumps – endows the player with a jolt of speed you see, so races in turn become less about figuring out the perfect racing line and handling corners tightly, and instead about stringing together as rapid a series of boosts as humanly possible. It'll sure take some adjusting to for the long-time fan, but does add a nice new dimension to the proceedings that you'll certainly grow to appreciate. And for those Mario Kart DS fans with worry lines plastered across their faces at the mere mention of all this; "snaking" is all but a thing of a past I'm pleased to say.
Of course, amidst all this chaos are the various power-ups that you love to hate, helping out those lesser skilled, while forever hindering those up front. Additions to the age old favorites vary in quality – from the super cool new Mega Mushroom that doubles your size while you go flattening your way across the course, to the frustrating albatross around your neck that is the Thunder Cloud (which speeds you up temporarily, then annoyingly shrinks you) – and on the whole the sheer power of these items may prove a point of contention for some.
Which in turn leads us onto the fundamental, yet arguably only real flaw with Mario Kart Wii. For some, it's a minor niggle, but for many it'll prove a deal breaker. And that would be the fact that ... due to the sheer brutality of these power-ups, you really don't have much influence over whether you win or lose in this game. It's sad, but boy is it true. Items have such a ridiculous impact on race outcomes, you can easily go from placing first in one, to 12th in the next, based solely on the luck of the draw. And there's literally nothing you can do about it.
On the plus side, I really didn't care much. There are two types of Mario Kart players you see; those who can simply laugh it off and smile their way through such sadistic twists of fate, content in the fact that it's still flat-out fun, regardless of the star-wielding NPC who just clipped 'em off a bend on Rainbow Road while they were patiently minding their own business. But there are also those who'll kick up a tantrum, throw toys outta their pram, and swear at every red shell cast their way. They'll fling that Wii-wheel against the wall quicker than a Frisbee each and every time they hear stupid frakkin' Toad's pathetic yelp of victory as he banana skins them into last place on the home straight yet AGAIN.
Breathe ... slowly....
If you frustrate easily then, hate to lose, and can't stand a huge dollop o' randomness in your games, quite simply, this isn't for you. These are traits that have haunted Mario Kart since the dawn of time in varying amounts, but it's most definitely far more pronounced this time around than ever before. It makes 150cc and Mirror Cup modes a serious pain in particular, and is something you should most definitely know going in.
Regardless of the single player's serious balancing, uh, "issues", online multiplayer alone propels this latest addition up into the realms of must-have status however. Zero lag? A whopping great 12 players? Team games? The ability to race as your Mii!? All present and correct, sir! In fact, the online functionality is so well done here, that it's set a new standard for Wii titles as a whole in my opinion, not to mention shattered Nintendo's spotty track-record in that department almost completely.
That's not to say it's perfect, of course. While you can race strangers at random, full-on Grand Prix cups are limited to private games amidst those on your friend's list, which is a serious downer in particular. The Battle Mode is mildly rubbish too, due to the enforcement of teams and no lone-wolf option. Plus after all this time? We're still stuck with those good old ruddy friend codes as well.
The first time you witness the fabulous lobby system though, that introduces each of your rivals one by one in Mii form – while a spinning globe showcases where they're all from – you'll appreciate the time and sheer love poured into this thing. I almost don't wanna ruin the surprise by detailing its every fantastic feature and nuance, as it's oh so wondrous discovering it all for yourself, but sending ghosts to your friends, comparing times on the truly inspired graphical leader boards, not to mention the ace new dashboard features that MK Wii installs all prove fab, much appreciated upgrades that are about as good as anything seen on fellow console racing games in recent times. Friends lists accessible from the main Wii menu for example!? Holy hell!
Then there are the races themselves. So much fun. So much laughter. You've never flat-out creased up in fact, as much as you will the first time you sucker-punch a buddy on the home straight to secure your first win. For all the randomness of the power-ups, and the teeth-grinding inability to just disable the suckers when playing over the net, the sheer underlying stubbornness of how bloody brilliant this game is with a group of pals renders pretty much all your whinings invisible. So share them annoying friend codes. Type those endless streams of numbers in. 'Cos I'm telling ya; with a jam packed buddy list and a race full o' Miis? Mario Kart Wii reaches just about the pinnacle of online fun. I exaggerate not.
Say what you will about the Wii's software line-up thus far, but Nintendo's first party titles have been just as good as ever, and here's yet another to chuck on that pile. Now how about F-Zero and Starfox sequels to round it off in style?
PLUSES: Hints back to earlier Mario Karts, while adding neat new features like stunts and gesture control to (mostly) fantastic effect. Gorgeous graphics rank up there among the system's finest. Boasts an online mode to die for, that'll keep you coming back for many, many months, and sets a new standard for this system as a whole.
MINUSES: Single player mode proves endlessly frustrating in later levels. Item imbalances make you wish the damn things were stripped out completely. Music is uncharacteristically forgettable. Online Grand Prix cups disappointingly limited to just those on your friends list.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.0 BUY IT!
April 4, 2008
Looking for a reason to head back to Paradise? Criterion may have the great answer in the first content pack for Burnout: Paradise: an entire Island. And best of all, it's all free.
The new videos show a very modern, sky scraper laden, downtown, with large curving roads that look great for high speed racing all connected to the main land by a huge, under construction bridge. The first piece of this downloadable content is also going to include the car seen in the video (and perhaps others) as well as "unique game" that Criterion will be revealing soon.
While I really enjoyed Burnout: Paradise, I haven't been as drawn back to it as I was to Burnout 3: Takedown (which is one of my favorite racing games of all time). A new island, cars, and gameplay sound like an excellent reason to return to Paradise City.
April 2, 2008
I am pretty much contradicting myself by writing about this, but yet another "main stream" journalist thinks video games are super terrible for society and that something must be done to stop them.
The source in question comes from an editorial written by Giles Whittell, writer and parent from the Times of London, where said Journalist has come to the conclusion that video games are as bad as heroin and teenage pregnancy. Sigh.
The writer believes that one shouldn't have to try games to know their bad just like they shouldn't have to try heroin or teenage pregnancy to know they're bad. An obvious indication of how little this person knows about games is their repeated use of the phrase "I will never buy my children a Nintendo" (because apparently someone at the Times believed it crucial that Giles actually try a game before criticizing it).
At this point I'm just going through the motions. Turns out crime has gone down as video game popularity has risen. The largest market isn't kids, it's 18 - 35 year olds. Heroin kills people and teenage pregnancy often leads to broken families. Video gamers almost always grow up to be skilled, intelligent, and productive members in a increasingly technology dependent society. Video games shouldn't be a babysitter, they are a form of entertainment, as much as reading a child a book or taking them to the park. Video games can teach children valuable skills including teamwork, the villainy of cheating, accomplishment and working with loss. I can keep this up all day...
Anyone care to guess when the next one of these type of stories get written?
I wish I could say I’m shocked, but I’m not.
Yesterday on his blog, EA’s Peter Moore confirmed that Madden 09 will not be released on the PC, because … well, because making games solely for the console is a more efficient way to back the old Brinks truck up to EA’s corporate headquarters, I guess. Officially, it’s being called “serious business challenges in the sports category”.
On one hand, there’s a certain inevitable logic to the numbers. Sales from the console versions of Madden 08 (NPD, August 07) clocked in around 2 million units, almost 900,000 of that on the 360 alone.
Madden on the PC … well, I couldn’t even find firm figures, but Bioshock was the top-selling PC game at around 77,000, so Madden’s PC sales had to be fewer than that. When you’re talking about a platform that doesn’t break 5% of your sales ... if I’m running a business, I’m probably making that same call.
That said, if you look at the history of the franchise, it’s hard not to feel like EA’s got the blinders on a little, and are missing a bigger problem that could bite them in the ass down the road. The fact is, they’ve been charging full-game prices for expansion-pack content for years now – open a new Madden each year, and you get new rosters, some cosmetic upgrades, and one or two minor gameplay tweaks.
Even as they’re doing that, other aspects of the game remain unfixed, enshrined forever in EA’s Canton of Half-Assed Coding. And buying up the exclusive NFL license and effectively driving competition out of the market hasn’t been the best thing for public relations, even if it was the NFL who approached them.
In the console space, none of this has been a problem … yet … because new hardware has driven software sales as people switched to a new platform, and EA’s been able to shed blame for bugs and incomplete features by blaming it on the challenges of developing for the new hardware. In the PC marketplace, the customers have seen the emperor’s new clothes for a while now – they’ve watched as EA put all the development efforts into next-gen while handing PC gamers the same game as last year with a different splash screen.
And now, figuratively and literally, they’ve taken their ball and gone home. Which may be fine on a balance sheet, but ignores a larger customer satisfaction issue – what’s EA going to do when there isn’t a new console to prop up sales and they have to rely solely on the quality of their product? The PC sales figures aren’t just a blip on the radar, they’re Jacob Marley warning Scrooge that those chains itch something fierce.
OK, so why does any of this matter to you? You guys are mostly here for Spore, and the international readers probably don’t give a damn about American football. Points taken.
But consider the broader implications – Madden is one of the 800-lb gorillas of the gaming scene: it’s consistently one of the biggest releases of the year, it has its own TV show (albeit a really stupid one), it’s a game that’s “safe” for gamers to admit they like, it even mainstreamed the concept of the “Maddenoliday”.
Other game companies will be watching this move, and possibly base their own future decisions on how well this turns out for EA. So even if you don’t care specifically about the hand-wringing across Madden Nation, it should at least give you pause as a disturbing sign of possibilities to come.
Rainbow Six Vegas 2
These days, everyone loves a good tactical shooting, taking down tangos in an overly planned manner. Games in the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon series' have advanced from being completely hardcore titles to become somewhat more accessible, letting players ease in with slicker controls and cover points, as well as giving them a bit more health and power. The introduction of cinematic cutscenes that take full advantage of the new generation of hardware has also helped the helped the genre, as well as the fact that the Tom Clancy brand has been thrusted upon gamers everywhere.
If you haven't played a recent Rainbow Six game, they are basically tactical FPS with a story. Rainbow Six "mixes it up" by giving you indirect control of two equally skilled NPCs fighting at your side. You can order them to move to a certain position, blow up doors and clear rooms, as well as making them cover you when you're trying a particular maneuver and they do their jobs pretty darn well.
Overall it's a nice change to command a small squad rather playing yet another "uber killing machine". However, unlike your standard FPS your character is quite vulnerable – even a few shots are more than enough to take you out – so you have to play carefully and artistically. Vegas 2 follows this same basic pattern, with a story that involves Las Vegas, funnily enough...
The single player game as a whole is fairly short, but it is a solid and enjoyable experience, and given the XP system (more on that later), it's quite replayable. The AI offers a decent challenge, and you always have to be aware of their positions, plotting a set course through a particular level to dispatch of the terrorists quickly and efficiently. The game is very satisfying if you digest it all at once, like a movie, as you race through the levels for no particular reason apart from testing your skills as a trained operative and master tactician.
The original Rainbow Six Vegas was good; it brought the age-old tactical shooter to a new generation, showing people the power of their new hardware, and became an Xbox Live favorite. It was fun, had a large story mode, and also featured some nice set-pieces. However, it was flawed by the randomly spawning AI, the lack of a coherent friend invite system in the online multiplayer, spotty team and enemy AI, and some rough graphical finishes. Well, I'm not happy to report that its sequel doesn't improve on much of these at all, and instead chooses to add different things.
Yes, the rough graphics are back, as is the invisible tripwire spawning AI, and the team and enemy NPCs are still fascinatingly glitchy. The ranked multiplayer now has friend slots, but after a game you are not returned to the lobby with all of your friends, but are literally thrown back to the main menu. Why Ubisoft Montreal can't get it right is beyond me, but perhaps looking at the release date can give us a clue. This game has arrived approximately 1 year and 4 months after the original appeared on the 360. Therefore, it's fair to say that Vegas 2 had a rushed development, with the developers just delivering the smallest amount they could get away with to make a quick profit, somewhat akin to GRAW2's rapid arrival last year.
However, this is Rainbow Six we are talking about, which revels in its punishing gameplay, multiplayer modes, and a maddeningly large collection of guns. Vegas 2 continues in the same stead as the other titles in the series and delivers a very solid experience despite its inability to evolve into something better. The novelty of ordering your team to different objectives and making them do all the hard work for you still hasn't worn off after all this time, and darting through levels, using fast ropes and rappel points still works delightfully well too.
The multiplayer side of the game has seen little change from the original Vegas, but there are one or two new modes and a few new maps which are pretty much copied from the single player mode. The game will keep you hooked just like its predecessor though, because the gameplay is fast, frantic, and tense, and winding up your friends with mad camo combos and customized characters is still fun. Terrorist Hunt still rules the roost though, which now can be played on your own with your own squad, and the online component finally has options such as respawning for weaker players.
Moving on to one of the better additions to the franchise, the character creation aspect has certainly changed. You can now carry a persistent character across all of the game modes and you can earn experience points for just about ... well anything really. You can earn XP from kills, when your team-mates kill someone, killing someone up close, through think cover, with an explosion, with harsh language... I'm actually surprised they didn't award XP for starting the game there are so many different ways to earn XP.
But the developers use good use of this system as you can use your XP in many ways. You can level up a few sub-classes (marksman, close quarters and assault skills) plus you can use XP to improve your character and unlock new items. The XP bar is always a part of the HUD, taking a prominent area at the bottom of the screen, and genuinely makes you think differently to how you interact with the game, forcing you to make more kills yourself if you want to level up and obtain new weapons and items. Plus it adds replay value (sort of).
In conclusion then, Vegas 2 is a very mixed bag. It is hard to review as a standalone release as in essence Vegas 2 is an expansion pack for the original game. It adds little from the original title and even takes away some elements. Most notably the story mode being smaller in general and co-op mode reduced to 2 players. But the few new features are excellent and suit the franchise amicably – even though Ubisoft Montreal should've hammered out some of the bugs in the code they (metaphorically) simply copied and pasted from the last game.
The end result is very conservative effort, feeding the fanbase of the past game and trying to appeal to many people at once. It does certainly improve on the predecessor and makes small shuffling steps in the right direction for the series as a whole, and it will definitely be a highly played title for a considerably long while.
This just doesn't look and feel like how a sequel should be, and if this trend continues with Ubisoft's Tom Clancy branded titles (and all signs say it will – GRAW2 being one of them), then we are in for an extremely boring and monotonous future, where mediocrity dominates.
PLUSES: Same old lovely Rainbow Six gameplay, the controls are refined further still, and the running addition is useful. Also, the increased importance of the XP system is refreshing, offering real player progression.
MINUSES: This is basically an expansion pack to the original game, and doesn't offer that many new useful additions. Furthermore, all of the old bugs and nuances from the last game are all still present and unfixed here.
FINAL VERDICT: 7.0 TRY IT!